Who is the Bonissima?

If you visit Modena, right in the central square, called Piazza Grande, at the corner of the Town Hall, there is a 137 cm statuette depicting a woman, dated around the end of 1200. There are various legends about this statuette known as the Bonissima (the good one).

A simple symbol of trade?

Most likely the statuette represented honesty in the trade "bona esma" or good esteem, good measure, in fact it is thought that it held a balance and was placed on a base with the various units of measurement engraved on it. The word "bunessma" in Modenese dialect is still today synonymous with a person known by all and also with a gossip and curious person. In fact, the statue of the bonissima is placed in a point where it seems to see and control everything that happens in the square.

Piazza Grande e la Bonissima
Piazza Grande e la Bonissima

A noble and generous lady?

In reality, the Bonissima, is seen by the Modenese as a kind of being protector of the city. The most widespread legend tells of a very rich lady who helped and fed the people, during a long period of famine, with the help of other nobles she gathered, hence the name Bonissima. This legend also derives from the fact that between the folds of her dress she seems to have a bag.

Matilde di Canossa, Il Parmigianino, immagine di pubblico dominio
Matilde di Canossa, Il Parmigianino, immagine di pubblico dominio

The famous Matilda di Canossa?

But why am I telling you this story?

Because it is a very fascinating story in itself but above all because I was attracted by the fact that some historians have advanced hypotheses on the identity of this very good woman and one of these hypotheses brings up Matilde di Canossa. Matilde di Canossa is the second protagonist of our "Small articulated encyclopedia of women in history" as well as being a character who made the history of the places where I live. Those who support this thesis on the identity of the very good woman believe that what was holding this statue in her hand was the pomegranate symbol of Matilda di Canossa and also of the Church, in fact there are various paintings that depict her with this symbol. Furthermore Matilde di Canossa lived between the eleventh and twelfth centuries and had a strong influence on the city of Modena so she could be the mysterious noblewoman who helped the poor in a difficult time for the entire city.

Read other stories of women HERE

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